Haneda Redefines the Art of Travel

by Catherine Shaw
Haneda Redefines the Art of Travel Architect Jun Mitsui tells WIFM about the inspiration for Asia’s most stylish airport

Airports do not usually top the list of must-see desirable design or cultural environments. For most travelers, airports represent an uninspiring but necessary experience. But all that is about to change with the recent opening of the Tokyo International Air Terminal (commonly known as Haneda), a beautifully designed state-of-the-art airport terminal building that is likely to appeal to busy travelers and design enthusiasts alike.

At just 15 kilometers from Tokyo Station and with direct access from the Tokyo Monorail and the Keikyu Airport Line, Haneda couldn’t be more convenient for a quick getaway from the capital. Inside, the 154,000m2 floor space is remarkably efficient — close attention has obviously been paid to the real needs of passengers, from useful and functional movement between key locations to attractive commercial and service facilities. But for many passengers, the real attraction lies in the decision to actively design a uniquely Japanese experience to welcome travelers.

Haneda Exterior“There are so many new airports being designed, especially in China, so it was important to create something that represented Japan — from its unique natural environ-ment and four seasons to its hospitality and culture,” explains Jun Mitsui, whose architectural office was responsible, as part of a consortium, for the building design.

“Haneda is a concise airport — that, and its efficiency is very Japanese so it was important for us to design it with this in mind. We also wanted to create something that felt more like a house that you would welcome friends to. Somewhere that would reflect what Japan is, and its unique hospitality.”

The result of this careful consideration is a sleek combination of subtle design elements that celebrate Japan’s natural environment, especially water. For instance, the 3rd floor departure area is a bright and open space framed by a striking ceiling that evokes the light that filters through the high thin clouds (which Mitsui calls suji-gumo) typical of Japan’s winter season, while a cobalt-blue floor represents the ocean. “We felt the light represents the character of Japan, while in ancient times Japan was known as muzuho-no-kuni (the water country with beautiful rice ear),” he told WIFM.

Haneda InteriorOne floor down, the arrivals area is also rich with aquatic symbolism, such as internationally renowned artist Hiroshi Senju’s stunning water-inspired work placed at key visual locations. The most striking is a large painting of a waterfall that offers different perspectives when viewed from various angles. At the entrance of each of the entry bridges are paintings by the same artist representing different forms of water such as fog, rain and mist.

Elsewhere, even carpets have been given the Japanese treatment. Mitsui explains that, although from a distance the arrival floor’s cherry colored carpet simply appears patterned, closer inspection reveals an intricate flower petal pattern derived from the gentle rotation that cherry blossoms create when they drift to the ground. “The sense of hospitality behind that detail is very Japanese,” remarked Mitsui. “There is always a story of the design and symbolism behind every form. Simply placing kawara tiles, for example, is not ‘Japan’ — it is just too direct, not okuyukashi.”

Mitsui goes on to explain that it was their hope that once travelers understood the meaning behind the designs, they would appreciate the function more. “Every detail has a story. Even the Baggage Zone is a bright green color with intricate patterns, such as the new leaves from trees in summer. It is very unusual as a baggage claim area. We have a variety of seasons — this is one of the beauties of Japan — but we wanted to introduce this in a metaphoric way, not an obvious way. We even put a large window at the end of a corridor that offers a direct view of Mt Fuji on a clear day. We also took inspiration from one particular curve of Mt Fuji and used that unique natural curvature to create a distinctive roof design for the terminal building. I hope people will look at it and remember that they are here, in Japan.”